|JayJay and Jim having a Happy Thanksgiving|
Thanksgiving with Don Perlin’s Father
I guess I saw Don Perlin a few times during my early days at Marvel, when he occasionally came into the office to deliver the art for an issue of Werewolf by Night. I was associate editor then, around 1976.
Werewolf by Night was cancelled in late 1976. So, Don was out of work.
About the same time, Ghost Rider needed a writer and an artist. Editor in Chief Archie Goodwin gave me the writing assignment. I had done some save-the-day, last-minute scripting earlier on the series when Gerry Conway and others failed to deliver….
When Don called Archie to see if there was any other work for him, Archie referred him to me. Don called me and I said, yes, I had a gig for him. Later, Don told me he was praying for “anything but Ghost Rider.” Don didn’t want the hassle of drawing motorcycles.
Don came in to the office to find out his new assignment. I said Ghost Rider. He said thank you.
Other than David Kraft, who rode a Norton Commando, I was the only Marvel guy who had motorcycle experience. I’d owned several bikes, including a Yamaha TX750, the fastest four-stroke produced in 1973. And I had skills. I could ride. I could pop a wheelie in fourth gear and blow the chrome off of a Harley, or any other bike. Except a Kawasaki 750 two-stroke. But, Kaws, unless you thoroughly gusseted the frame, had so much torque that under full throttle the frame would warp, the back wheel wouldn’t follow the front and the next thing you knew, you were doing an endo. I had a friend with a Kaw 750 who did a 70-MPH flying dismount when his back wheel headed east while his front wheel was pointed north. He narrowly missed the bridge abutment. Spinning to a stop on his back, he was saved by his thick leathers.
But I digress….
When Don showed up at my office to get the first plot, I was ready for him. I had bought a model of a chopped Harley and had paid one of our staff colorists, Andy Yanchus, who had once worked for Aurora (a producer of model kits), $35 to build it. Andy was a genius with models. If I had tried to build the thing, well…that would have been an atrocity.
I gave the model to Don for reference. He seemed pleased.
Anyway, I tried to psych Don up, convince him we could do something special with the character. Didn’t have to. Don always gave his best to everything. Right away he had ideas. The few issues we did together were great fun. Working with someone who gets it, who is enthusiastic, who cares, who contributes…well, isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?
I’ve told this story before, but one night, very late, wee hours, Don called me, all excited, to say that he had an idea for a character that he wanted to insert into a story—Brahma Bill! Wha…? Brahma Bill? Whuhhh….? I said, sure, all right, whatever, and went back to sleep.
That was Don. Always enthusiastic, always trying to contribute, always creating. Brahma Bill turned out to be great fun to write. Don had a knack for creating characters, both headliners and interesting supporting cast.
Though I was soon replaced by writers who had more time, Don was the lynchpin for keeping GR alive.
When I was promoted to Editor in Chief at the beginning of 1978, I had my first look at the master rate sheet—everyone’s page rates.
Don Perlin was Marvel’s lowest paid artist. By a long shot. $35 a page for pencils. A similarly low rate for inks. At a time when top rates were far more than double that.
Well, that didn’t seem right.
Don had been passed over for rate increases for years. I suspect it was because he wasn’t the squeaky-wheel type. He wasn’t an ass-kisser. He was an older guy. He wasn’t one of the young crowd who hung out after work, so he was easy to overlook, and he’d been overlooked. Young punks with a fraction of his chops started at rates higher than his.
My theory regarding rates was this: The factors in setting rates should be:
- Quality of work
- Creativity, that is, how much they contribute
- Length of service in the industry
- Length of service to Marvel
- Reliability, cooperation, timeliness and professionalism
Don was deserving of far more than he got.
I gave Don a substantial raise the moment I was able to. I gave him raises every chance I could get away with it until he was in proper territory, one level shy of the top, John Buscema.
I was just trying to be fair. Don appreciated it.
We became friends. My girlfriend and I would occasionally go out to dinner with Don and his wife, Becky. He adopted me, sort of. Don started inviting me to family functions, his daughter’s weddings and such. He has four daughters, I think.
The more I got to know Don, the more I loved him. He is a great guy. He became my “Unca Donald.”
I went to several daughters’ weddings and receptions. One of them was held at his home in Brooklyn. I was invited, but everyone else there was family. I didn’t really know anybody except Don and his wife, and they were busy playing host and hostess.
There was this old guy sitting by himself on the couch. No one else seemed to be interested in him (or me), so I went and sat by him. He was Don’s father. I’m sorry that I don’t remember his first name, but from the moment he introduced himself I addressed him as Mister Perlin.
No one else seemed to be interested in talking to him. I guess they had already heard all his stories.
I was a stranger. A new audience.
I spoke with Don’s father for a while. He asked me where I lived. I said Madison and 38th.
“Manhattan! Then you could come and visit me!” he said. 2nd and 19th. The Cabrini hospice.
I didn’t know what “hospice” was. Just lucky, I guess, that I had never come across that word at that point in my young life.
I promised him I would come and visit him.
Later, I found out what “hospice” was. The old guy was dying.
Weeks passed. I was working long hours. I didn’t have time for a haircut, much less to visit anybody.
Then, Thanksgiving came. I had to appear at a convention the next day, but for Thanksgiving day, I could enjoy a rare day off. Groovy.
My plan: Goof off. Watch football. Get turkey from the deli downstairs. Be a slug. I had a late date with a girl for post-T-Day drinks. Wha-hoo-hoo!
But, I remembered that I had promised Mister Perlin that I’d come and visit him. If not then, that day, when?
How long did he have?
So, I got myself ready, went out, found a store that was open, bought a nice box of Godiva chocolates and marched down to Cabrini.
I think Mister Perlin was stunned to see me. He gave the chocolates to the nurses. They were pleased.
There were 35 hospice residents on that floor.
I was the only visitor.
Thanksgiving Day, and I was the only visitor. For anyone there.
Mister Perlin “shared” me with the other patients. I spent time talking with them all.
I had planned on spending maybe half an hour there, then going home to watch some oblong ball, but I wound up spending the day there.
Mister Perlin urged me to stick around. He said that his son, Donald had promised to come. I should wait for him.
Mister Perlin insisted, as did the many others for whom I was the only visitor, that I stay for Thanksgiving dinner. I did. For an institutional dinner it wasn’t bad. And the company was wonderful. I cherish that time.
After dinner, Mister Perlin regaled me with stories of his youth. He had been in the rag trade. He reminisced fondly about the heady days when double-knit was introduced.
Don called to talk to his father. Don apologized, said he couldn’t make it to visit. You know, the kids, the grandkids, all the chaos. Mister Perlin said it was okay, and by the way, that nice, tall young man had come to see him. He put me on the phone.
Don thanked me.
After that, Don and I were brothers, I think. Twins, he used to say.
Mister Perlin died shortly thereafter.
Some time later, Don insisted on coming to work with me at VALIANT. He did great work with me. I think his pencils on Solar: Man of the Atom were amazing. He made tremendous creative contributions to that and everything else. He had a hand in the creation of many characters: Rai, the Geomancer and Archer and Armstrong and more. He helped train the young artists. He was wonderful. We couldn’t have done it without him.
Some time later, I was forced out of VALIANT.
Don despised the criminals who had stolen VALIANT from me and hated the weasels like Layton and Hartz who served the criminals. They, and their bosses wouldn’t have approved of his hanging around with me, and he still needed the gig there, so Don would meet secretly with me, for lunch, or invite me discreetly to his home. He swore that as soon as I started something new, he’d be there for me.
But, VALIANT books were then selling huge numbers. Don started making a lot of money on royalties and such. He started getting lots of invitations to conventions and appearances. His work had always been great, but for the first time since I knew him, he was getting proper recognition for it. He was a star!
One evening, months later, he invited me over. We went out to dinner, then went back to his home for coffee. I was in the process of starting up DEFIANT. Almost ready to begin.
He wouldn’t say so directly, but I could tell he wasn’t keen on the idea of walking away from the well-deserved success he was enjoying to join me in another (risky) start-up. Though, I think if I had pushed him, he would have kept his promise.
I didn’t push him. I figured it was about time he got his due.
I pressed on without him.
That was the last time I saw him for a long while.
Years later, after DEFIANT had gone down thanks to a spurious lawsuit by Marvel and a catastrophic collapse of the market, among other things, I was starting over yet again. I had a new company, Broadway Comics, in partnership with Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video Entertainment. Though I hadn’t seen him for years, I invited Don to our launch party. He came. Everyone was glad to see him.
He seemed a little worried at first that I had some grudge against him, or thought ill of him for not sticking with me. Nah. He was my Unca Donald, and I always wanted whatever was best for him, no matter what.
He said, as always, that he and I were twins, but he was the better looking one, and I said, as always, that I was the smart one.
I love Don. And his father was a wonderful man. I’m glad he had a great deal of success and made some dough at VALIANT. I’m glad someone I like did.
Thanksgiving always brings Mister Perlin to mind.
And my favorite Uncle.
Happy Thanksgiving, Don. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
|Don Perlin (photo by JayJay Jackson)|